As summer approaches and evening temperatures rise, many people enjoy relaxing on their decks, porches, and patios after a long day at work. These relaxing evenings can quickly be cut short by annoying visitors. No, I’m not talking about the neighbor down the street, or a family member showing up for the dreaded “pop-in”, I’m talking about insects. Mosquitoes especially can quickly ruin and otherwise peaceful evening in your yard. There are plenty of ways for dealing with these and other unwanted insects, but before you go reaching for harmful pesticides, consider the natural method.
Bats are small mammals found throughout our area; they emerge each evening during warmer months to consume mosquitoes and other insects. Some bats consume as many as 1000 insects per hour each evening, making them important members of our ecosystem, and welcome residents in any yard. Attracting bats to your yard is easy, and the perfect, natural method for controlling insects.
Bats often roost in groups, and providing a shelter in the form of a bat box is one way to attract more bats to your yard. When bats roost, they can fall prey to a variety of predators including, hawks, owls, raccoons, and cats. A bat box will ensure bats are kept safe during roosting hours. Bat boxes are available commercially and can be purchased from the same local retailer where you purchase your nest boxes and feed for your backyard birds. If you are looking for a fun project to do at home with your kids, bat boxes are easy to make with very few tools required.
Currently in Ontario, two of our bats are listed as endangered on the Species at Risk list: the Little Brown Bat and Northern Long-eared Bat. These bats are threatened by White Nose Syndrome, a disease that disrupts their hibernation cycle, causing them to use up their fat reserves before they emerge in the spring when they can actively feed again. While a bat box cannot prevent or cure White Nose Syndrome, it can protect each delicate individual from falling prey to predators.
I recently made my own bat box with free plans I found on the Organization for Bat Conservation website. This project only took a few hours to complete (not including paint drying time) and materials cost less than $15.00. The box I built is large enough to hold up to 100 roosting bats, and easily mounted to the back of my house with two screws. According to the plans, bat boxes should be mounted at least 15 feet high and in area that is obstruction free for 20 feet surrounding the box. Box temperature is key, so here in the north it is recommended that boxes face south to southeast where they will receive a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. It is also advised to paint the outside of the bat box dark brown or black with a non-toxic latex paint to absorb more of the sun’s heat.
Using pesticides has long lasting, harmful effects on our environment. In many cases, non-targeted species including beneficial insects, mammals and birds are impacted by pesticides. DDT was the leading factor in the decimation of several bird species, including the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. More than 40 years since the ban of DDT, these birds of prey are still listed as Species at Risk in Ontario. More recently, we have seen the negative effects neonicotinoids have on several species. The decline of Honey Bees and other beneficial insects required for pollination and the link to neonicotinoids has been well documented in the media for several years, but more recent studies are linking them to several bird population declines.
Pesticides harm birds by either reducing the number of insects and therefore depleting their food supply, or by the bird ingesting a poisoned insect. Take a look at the birds listed on the Ontario Species at Risk list and count how many of these consume insects as their sole or primary food. Coincidence? I don’t think so. By poisoning unwanted insects we are also poisoning beneficial insects including Honey Bees, and butterflies, as well as the birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that consume them.
Eliminating pesticide use around our homes is a simple measure we can all take to improve our environment. Multiple species, from the tiniest insects to the largest birds will all benefit from your actions. By creating a safe natural environment, one with plenty of native plants and free from chemicals, you will ultimately attract more wildlife. You will also have peace of mind knowing you’ve done your part to make a difference. What better way to relax after a long day at work than to grab your favourite beverage, head outside and enjoy the private natural oasis you’ve created.